Archive for December, 2008

do they know it’s chronnukah?

30 December 2008

my sister held her second annual chronnukah (a combination of christmas and hannukah, though you wouldn’t be wrong if you guessed chronic also factored into the naming). all involved acknowledged the first event would be hard to follow, if only because a bartender cut off part of his thumb slicing a lime and we had no volunteers eager to repeat. nonetheless we made a concerted effort at entering the record books.

luckily, my sister was in championship form, spending much of the day making penguin cupcakes from a book i gave her for christmas. the only downfall of her prestigious gifts is that people would rather stare at her baked creations in amazement than eat them (you’ll notice in the picture, and this was increasingly true as the night progressed, drunk people love stealing yellow starburst beaks off of penguins).

as evidence of the strength of our sibling bond, in turn i used a gift that she had gotten me for christmas, namely, an alcohol infuser, making this perhaps the first party ever where someone went on a fruit run. after reading the instructions on the box, nothing was safe from infusion. i began with crushed pineapples and vodka. next i tried tomato, basil, and oregano flavored vodka. arriving revelers had to answer one question — are you allergic to tomatoes? — before they were handed a shot. some hated it, some said it tasted like a meatball sub or slice of pizza, a few became acolytes, finishing what others refused. later we made infused tequilas, among the variations, lime/mint and tangerine/cinnamon (refried beans were continuously vetoed as an option). i felt unstoppable, like a king, perhaps, dispensing libations to his gathered subjects, and told everyone that i had infused a pregnant lady in attendance with a baby, in an act of benevolence. that joke must have been much funnier then because i repeated it numerous times, and now i just have the urge to erase that sentence.

outside, near a fledgling fire, we played an incomprehensible game called werewolf. according to the leader, he would select two people to assume the guise of the title creature. then, once night fell on the village, the werewolves would choose someone to attack and tear apart with lupine savagery. upon daybreak, after being apprised of the mauling victim of the night before, the surviving villagers voted on whom amongst them was immersed in the lycanthropic arts; that person was subsequently lynched. later, a seer, a character who was permitted to view all the events with open eyes, was introduced. the werewolves focused their yellow ochre eyes, while the villagers sought the help of this omniscient being. in a likely example of art imitating life, i was the first to die, my supple flesh no match for claws and canines.

we began talking about werewolf movies. i started feeling left out of the discussion, so i made up my own, the ambivalent werewolf, about a guy who wasn’t sure if he wanted to kill. sure, he enjoyed the improved eyesight, the celerity, even the excessive hairiness to an extent, but he didn’t want to hurt anyone. he even felt remorse when he, at starvation’s brink, stole chicken eggs from a neighboring farm. one person hung on every word i said, believing all of them to be true, so i invented more details and surreptitiously glanced around the room to determine how it was possible that i possessed so much power. it was an art-school film, shot in black and white, very grainy; sometimes, for twenty seconds or so, the screen would be blank, saturated with pitch. i was using these terms to dissaude him from renting it. i described make-believe scenes for close to half an hour, realizing that while some people can take a box of mini doughnuts, black food coloring, and a few marshmallows and turn them into a cute little animal, i can string together some words, deliver them with a straight face, and capture someone’s attention.

when i returned back with eight copies of lyrics for billy joel’s we didn’t start the fire, i discovered that i’m also pretty good at inciting people. someone wisely suggested that we sing by a bedroom where people were sleeping, and all agreed to take part in the serenading. the song began hesitantly, as we tripped over unfamiliar references to prokofiev and dien bien phu falls, but we gained confidence quickly, feeding off of the group’s collected enthusiasm, so phrases like trouble in the suez echoed down the hallway. don’t even get me started on belgians in the congo, but the rumor is gorillas in virunga national park were heard joining our choral group.

the jewish contingent, lead by the master of the convoluted game (that’s trademarked, so hands off, parker brothers), encouraged us to play a drinking game involving a spinning dreidel. a hebrew letter decided whether you drank, forced all to drink, poured a drink into a communal glass, or drank from that glass. the last option, watching others drink a mixture of beer, wine, and liquor, was the only one with entertainment value.

a trio of guests arrived at six am, so we woke my sister, asleep on her bed and fully clothed down to her shoes, with a knife and pen beside her, to tell her she was being a bad host. the first drowsy words out of her mouth were, sure, i’ll take a shot with you.

she got the last infused drink, vodka mixed with penguin parts — their yellow starburst beaks, marshmallow stomachs — and limes. the dishwater color and the awful taste were improved considerably by the addition of pomegranate juice. she drank every drop, as if relishing life.

a screaming comes across the sky.

29 December 2008

fireworks distributors have started giving their products catchy names and more appealing packaging, betting that the same thought process that casual drinkers use when selecting a bottle of wine is relevant with their customer. so tanned blondes with camouflage bikinis seductively show off rockets on shelves beside pimped-out tanks, motorcycles driven by biker dogs, and race cars with flames issuing from the exhaust pipes. names like uncle sam’s answer, loyal to none, and cruel mistress speak to their target consumer.

i’ve noticed this progression toward better marketing and sharper graphics, as it’s become a tradition, during the holidays, to go over to a high school friend’s house and shoot fireworks. each year, on his drive from alabama, he spends more money than the previous, ensuring that the displays improve. fear, perhaps, has always compelled me to take an ancillary role, limited to standing next to a heater with a sparkler dancing in my hand, until last week when i became a more active participant in the seasonal spectacle.

he and i lined the yard with pyrotechnics, lit them quickly, and ducked for cover. our family and friends looked on from the relative safety of the driveway and delivered the requisite ooohs and aaahs as they exploded with brilliant bursts of color. ash rained down on us.

for the finale, a block the size of a car battery fired successive blasts into the sky for upwards of thirty seconds. the last few streamed toward the ground, resembling palm trees.

our show lasted from eight until nine thirty on christmas day, yet we received a complaint in a neighborhood newspaper. a man wrote to the editor to say that not only had we annoyed him, we’d also rudely awakened his children. he wondered if we were breaking any laws, but didn’t provide any details, so the editor wrote, depending on the time, the kinds of fireworks used, and the location, it was possible that we were breaking state law or could be fined for noise violations.

obviously that man reads this blog, so let me direct a few sentences to him. your children, who you put to bed at seven thirty on christmas day, woke up hearing fireworks in the distance. they went to their windows and watched for an hour and a half, mouth agape, as the sky lit up. for that time, they were the happiest people in guilford county, but i completely understand how their incessant chatter about the amazing girandoles (their word, not mine — fucking educated brats) could be particularly annoying to you.

christmas present.

25 December 2008

we helped my mom downstairs to the couch in front of the tree, so she could directly participate in opening gifts. due to her declining motor skills and her decreased ability to concentrate, she’s relying less on writing, and instead using charades to communicate. our comprehension of her messages have suffered only slightly as we’ve become quite adept at understanding this sign language that isn’t sign language.

there remain deficiences, however, as evidenced earlier today as she pantomimed something we were unable to discern. after finally convincing her to write it down, we made a joke out of it, telling her she was overthinking and that gestural dialogue was simple, even if one didn’t graduate with a degree in kinesics. we produced hand signals, in turn, to prove our theory. i went first, pointing to her, then motioning like i was driving a car, then pointing at myself, and finishing by going, well, insane. you drive me crazy, i exclaimed in artificial exasperation.

my sister went next, turning her fingers into scissors, pointing with her index finger, and closing her hand into a fist with an upright thumb, which she thrust like an umpire calling a baserunner out or a superstitious person throwing salt over their shoulder to keep the devil at bay. we spoke in unison, cut it out, to emphasize the simplicity of the procedure.

my dad took no time to produce his phrase, pointing at his eye, then heart, then wife.

see, mom, you don’t need to complicate things, and then urged her on, now that we’ve shown you how it’s done, you try. as we stared at her, she lifted both hands, middle fingers waving at the three of us.

reveillon.

24 December 2008

tonight i made dinner, inspired, in part, by reveillon, a meal held on christmas eve and new year’s eve. the term is based on the french reveil, meaning waking, because participation involves staying awake, eating luxurious foods and partying into the morning. ever the traditionalist, there was also a red and green theme.

i started with roasted beet soup with a dollop of sour cream and parsley on top. i’ve made this before and have always served it hot. the bright color of the dish is a nice beginning.

next we had baby spinach salad with sliced radishes, cannellini beans, and walnuts. the sharpness of the radish was nicely balanced by the mild flavor of the beans.

there were two main courses due to my sister’s vegetarianism. the omnivores had tourtiere, a meat pie that i made from pork and beef. i’ve found there is a lot of debate concerning the proper ingredients, though the meat filling is often determined by regional availability. more important, it seems, is the use of cinammon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice, spices that were brought from france to quebec before disappearing almost completely in french cooking and becoming solely french canadian. my dad raved about it, and it was reminiscent of my grandmother’s that i ate as a child.

for my sister (and, honestly, also for my dad and i), i marinated scallops two ways. one was a green tea/honey mixture that, because i could only locate mint green tea, tasted a lot like toothpaste; the other, a pomegranate/maple syrup blend was more successful though i felt that the scallops were too large for such an undertaking. perhaps next time, if i’m willing to go to the trouble again, i’ll use bay scallops.

i had intended to make a maple walnut buche de noel, but i’m not a dessert person. my sister spent over an hour making butter cream that will likely sit in the fridge for weeks.

transfusion of blood.

22 December 2008

in the hospital, my mom, as director of blood services for the american red cross, worried that she was completely diminishing the city’s supply of blood. to belie her concerns, the various chapters in north carolina coordinated a blood drive in her honor. they produced posters with her picture and a few lines about her situation.

when the doors opened on the morning of the blood drive, the lines stretched around the building. eventually, people were turned away. in terms of units, it was the second most successful behind the donations that followed the terrorist attacks of september eleven. she admonishes us whenever we try to reward her first.

nil per os.

20 December 2008

while writing yesterday’s post i had two memories which didn’t fit within its constraints. i’ll list them now.

1. after sleeping most of the day, my mom got out of bed and wandered downstairs without our knowing (my aunt and i had gone into the other room). when we went to look for her, she was at the bottom of the stairs, carrying a tray with three glasses of orange juice and fighting off my dad who wanted to help her back up to bed. we hesitated and gave her space, watching her take each step gingerly, trembling like an autumn leaf. she relinquished the tray only after sitting on the edge of the bed. it took all her strength, and, once she finished chiding us for not believing in her, fell back asleep.

2. about a week ago, my mom broke her almost yearlong sobriety with a rum and coke. when i went to toast her with my own glass, i noticed hers was empty, then realized that she tipped her glass toward mine only because she wanted a refill. she put her hand to her mouth as if to conceal giggling.

goldenrod and the 4-h stone.

19 December 2008

1. last week a stuffed animal, pencillin, arrived from giant microbes for my mom. she’s allergic to the actual antibiotic so i figured she’d enjoy a plush version, which she has affectionately named penny. it rests on a machine used to suction mucus from the opening in her trachea.

2. today i brought her blueberry juice from trader joe’s. she doesn’t drink liquids by mouth regularly, due to the complications with her feeding tubes, but has recently craved juices to determine whether her sense of taste has improved. pear wasn’t strong enough. if nothing else she’ll appreciate the irony of drinking such an antioxidant-rich beverage.

3. for christmas i’m giving her a copy of the stone diaries by carol shields. the book is a fictional autobiography of a woman whose mother dies during childbirth. from there, her life continues rather ordinarily (she marries, has children, grows older), but as we examine her resiliency through difficult times, we understood that she is vibrant and inspirational. true, that’s pretty much the idea behind all of carol shields’s books, but this is presumably her best.

the santacon diaries.

17 December 2008

my sister and i have been frequenting a bar that serves half-priced wine on wednesdays on account of her knowing, if you catch my drift, one of the bartenders. they have even named two drinks after her, one, our last name, and, two, something more commonly ordered by its acronym nwar (or, for those more disgusting daring, my sister’s first name followed by wet and ready). the introduction of these drinks to the menu came after my sister, somehow always unsure of any specific ingredients that she enjoys, continued to ask for something delicious.

on one of the first of these nights spent together drinking we met a guy wearing a black leather jacket who emphatically told us about santacon (for information specific to greensboro or another city’s preparations, instead look here). we promised him that we would attend. on subsequent visits, every time the guy walked by we reassured him, even when his passion become more frightening than intoxicating.

after almost a two month courtship we searched for him in a sea of santas on the second floor of a downtown brewery. when we found him, wearing a leather jacket and matching pants, trimmed with white fur, and a belt with bells hanging from the buckle, he voiced disappointment with our costumes. as santa-on-vacation, i wore a white long-sleeved shirt, a navy tie adorned with tennis players, a tennis vest, tennis shorts, red tights, and carried a tennis racket. my sister, an unholy combination of snowflake and elf, went overboard on the glitter as often is the case.

there was a full day of activities planned so, arriving, as we did, in the evening, we missed the snowball fight, trips to the mall, to liberate santa from his post at macy’s, and strip club, to liberate santa’s candy cane, if you catch my drift, and hours of drinking. i refused to participate in the naughty christmas carols (regardless of my disguise, i can’t justify interrupting a family of four at dinner with suck my balls and lick my asshole fa la la la la la la la la). thankfully, after the first bar, where we exited right before we were likely going to be kicked out, the santas collectively become more demure to match my sensibilities.

forty plus santas (and elves and angels and jesus) canvassed the city, sometimes searching for a bar that could accomodate our numbers. along the way we handed out assorted baubles. cars stopped to shout encouragement or stare in bewilderment. a band watched as the venue suddenly filled with red. on a dance floor, girls in halter tops urged me to smack their asses with my tennis racket. in short, we spread christmas cheer and filled sleeping heads with visions of sugar plums.

after the festivities, eight tiny reindeer navigated our miniature sleigh back to the north pole where i nestled beside mrs. claus, or a very tall elf, as the case may be, who whispered that the stockings were not the only things hung with care, if you catch my drift.

lighted christmas balls.

15 December 2008

upon hearing about my mother, the man who popularized lighted christmas balls (watch the video embedded in the post on january three; at about the seven minute, thirty second mark he talks about us) and his son arrived at my parents’ house. using a potato gun and a fishing pole, thirteen balls composed of chicken wire and lights were hoisted into the trees outside the house. four were visible from the bedroom window. once their work was completed, they came inside to share stories and compare wounds.

for a few years their greensboro neighborhood has decorated their trees with these lights and nightly traffic through the area is slowed as drivers and passengers are drawn to the spectacle. recently they’ve set up a donation site to collect food for the hungry.

i wasn’t here to meet them, but i have been marveling at the hanging orbs in the front yard ever since. i want to thank them, especially for making my dad so inexplicably happy. he escorts visitors into the street to get the best view of the trees. every night, when the automatic timer is triggered, he runs through the house, like a child on a sugar bender (well, and with chronic back pain), shouting, the lights are on.

memories of beauty.

11 December 2008

1. every three hours a nurse pricks my mother’s finger to determine whether a dose (or more) of insulin is necessary, and she, smiling in an impish manner, often offers her raised middle finger for the sample. after weeks of this regimen, her fingertips are peppered with circular gray bruises.

2. upon seeing her newly-shaven head i remarked that she resembled the thirty-fourth president of the united states, dwight eisenhower, who ironically entered office in the year of her birth. i’ve since stopped calling her ike in favor of my peach.

3. sometimes you wonder if these images will be the ones that are stored in your head. you worry that maybe a barrier has been erected, like early christians not remembering a world before christ’s birth.


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